Markus Vinzent's Blog

Monday, 9 March 2015

Marcion and the canonical redaction and edition of the New Testament

Having attended the recent conference on 'The New Testament and its Text in the 2nd Century'
(Dresden 5.–7. März 2015), for the first time, I have understood the importance and impact of the so-called canonical redaction and edition of the New Testament (suggested first by David Trobisch a few years ago, and picked up by Matthias Klinghardt). Until now, I have largely overlooked this potentially extremely important piece in the jigsaw of the development of the canon, simply because it did not jump to my eyes from the sources. However, as so often, one does not catch indications, if one does not know what to look for. So, over the next weeks, I will particularly look out for what the sources tell us about this edition. That the NT did not flow somehow out of communities into what more or less without conscious, editorial direction ended up to be a collection, has always been my suspicion. Now, however, I have become more convinced that the first conscious collection of a gospel and the 10 Pauline letters by Marcion, together with his preface, the Antitheses, was followed by that other today called canonical redaction and edition of the NT, presumably done sometime during the 160s.

For a while I was puzzled that scholars today assumed that Marcion had not written much, if anything (except his preface, the Antitheses, and a letter) at all. And yet, the fathers unanimously talk about his writings in the plural. Irenaeus calls up 'scriptis' of Marcion (I 27), Epiphanius speaks about syntagmata of him, Ephrem knows of works of Marcion, and the anonymous Syriac author gives us even a quote of the opening of his 'Pro-Gospel' (Harnack correctly attributing this text to Marcion's Antitheses). Hence, if Marcion had not written anything at all, or only a preface and a letter, the fathers would be misled and inform us incorrectly. Hence, I think, when Tertullian calls Marcion the evangelizator or Gospel-writer, together with his preface and his letter, this fits the evidence better.

More important even is with regards the question of the NT collection above that Marcion in his Antitheses not only criticised the Gospel of Luke (Tertullian never speaks of Marcion using another protogospel), but, as Tertullian reports, with reference to Galatians also 'on this ground Marcion strives hard to overthrow the credit of those gospels which are the apostles' own and are published under their names, or even the names of apostolic men, with the intention no doubt of conferring on his own gospel the repute which he takes away from those others. ' (Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 3,2; Trans. Evans)
Without doubt, Tertullian reckons Marcion's Gospel to be his own as much as the others are owned by first the apostles (obviously Matthew and John) and 'the apostolic men' (Mark and Luke). Hence, according to Tertullian, Marcion knew of these four gospels when he criticised those in his work and accused them of being copies of his own. This also means that the four gospels existed at the time when Marcion published his own New Testament with his preface (= Antitheses), his gospel and his collection of 10 Pauline Letters. What he did not know, however (contrary to Harnack, 79), was a collection of those four gospels. Quite the opposite seems to be the case, and it seems that Marcion himself grouped these four texts, as they may either have been the earliest copies of his own, or from the copies that have been made, these four sounded the most closely resembling his own gospel-text, hence, there was need for Marcion to mention these Gospels with their presumed authors and to discredit these.
This, then, gives as the very first and only existing early evidence, why precisely those four gospels were ever brought together. And it seems to me that only in reaction to Marcion's discrediting of the four, exactly those four and no others were then defended by later authors like Irenaeus. Prior to Irenaeus, however, a full editorial enterprise had started. Justin or Justin's pupil Tatian have started to edit these four texts into what became known as Diatessaron, Theophilus of Antioch seems to have created his own Gospel-harmony, and, if David Trobisch is correct, the Carpos, mentioned in 2Tim. 4:13 (= Polycarpos of Smyrna, see D. Trobisch, 'Who published the New Testament', Free Inquiry  28 [2007/8] 30-3) seems to have built on Marcion's 'New Testament', but brought many more of the 27 writings into this same collection which, therefore, bore the same title, but gave credit to more than just one Gospel and 10 Pauline letters, and also was linked to what Marcion called (and rejected as) 'Old Testament'.
Here also a short version for the German Readers:
Ich habe zum erstenmal die Tragweite der Bedeutung der kanonischen Redaktion begriffen, die mir bislang aus den Texten so nicht entgegengeleuchtet hat. Doch in sie werde ich mich jetzt hinein vertiefen. Das einzige, was mich erstaunt, ist die Tatsache, dass die Redaktion als solche in keiner uns erhaltenen Quelle einen Niedergeschlag gefunden haben soll. Doch muss ich mich danach jetzt einmal erst auf die Suche machen, denn oft liest man Dinge nicht, von denen man vorher nicht recht gewusst hat.

In dieser Hinsicht auch nur eine kleine Lesefrucht zur frueheren Frage der Verfasserschaft Markions. Mir war immer schon aufgefallen, dass im Gegensatz zur modernen Forschung die Vaeter immer von einer Mehrzahl von Werken ausgegangen sind, die Markion selbst verfasst hatte. Irenaeus nennte 'scriptis' des Markion (I 27), Epiphanius spricht von syntagmata Markions, auch Ephraem nennt Schriften Markions und der von mir zitierte anonyme syrische Autor, der sogar den Eroeffnungspassus zitiert, ordnet diesen dem 'Proevangelium' zu, ein Text, der von Harnack wohl zurecht der Eroeffnung der Antithesen zugeordnet wird. Wenn Markion nichts anderes als die Antithesen als Vorwort einer Sammlung fremder Texte (und einen Brief) geschrieben haette, waeren die Angaben der Vaeter allesamt unverstaendlich bzw. falsch. Gerade nach unserer Tagung ist es mir jedenfalls noch viel plausibler, dass es gar kein anderes 'Proevangelium' gegeben hat als dasjenige, das die Antithesen einleiten, naemlich das des Markion, das dann als Proevangelium fuer die anderen Evangelien diente.
Bei der gesamten Tagung haben alle Anwesenden nur vom Evangelium des zweiten Jahrhunderts gesprochen, wo im ersten Jahrhundert haette denn ein solcher Text ueberhaupt seinen Platz. Eine Rolle spielt er jedenfalls nicht. Anders die Paulusbriefe (wenn auch in der Vorform, wie sie noch Markion vorlagen).
Und zur Frage, was dem Markion vorlag. In den Antithesen (so auch Harnack) kritisiert Markion nicht nur das Lukasevangelium (von einem aelteren Evangelium ist bei Tertullian nie die Rede), sondern mit Bezug auf den Galaterbrief (in den Antithesen?) heisst es: 'Hierauf stützt er sich, um die Stellung der Evangelien zu erschüttern, die recht eigentlich solche sind und unter dem Namen der Apostel oder auch apostolischer Männer ausgegeben wurden, und so die Glaubwürdigkeit, die er ihnen genommen, seinem Evangelium zuzuwenden.' (Uebers. BKV).
Demnach haben, wie Harnack richtig gesehen, Markion bei seiner Publikationsversion Matth., Joh., Markus und Lukas vorgelegen. Nicht richtig aber ist Harnack, wenn er hierin bereits eine 'autoritative Sammlung' dieser Schriften sah. M.E. hat erst Markion durch seine Kritik gerade an diesen, seiner Schrift am naechsten gekommenen Plagiate die Grundlage gelegt, auf der dann zur Verteidigung gerade dieser vier von ihm inkriminierten Schriften die Sammlung des NT angelegt und mit all den anderen Schriften abgesichert wurde. Die Tatsache der Inkriminierung der vier Evangelien durch Markion ist m.E. die erste und einzige bisher greifbare auessere Begruendung fuer die Zusammenstellung gerade dieser 4 Texte.


  1. Great post.

    Re: your comment in paragraph 1: "Now, however, I have become more convinced that the first conscious collection of a gospel and the 10 Pauline letters by Marcion, together with his preface, the Antitheses, was followed by that other today called canonical redaction and edition of the NT, presumably done sometime during the 160s."

    I could not agree more; however I am curious as to the basis for "presumably done sometime during the 160's"

    Is it possible that the Catholicizing of the Marcionite texts could have been even later than 160's? At least in come cases?

    I honestly do not know, I am just curious as to the dating of the edits/changes/add ons to the Marcionite text.

    Thanks. Again: Great and informative post.


    1. Dear Dave,
      indeed, I think that the canonical redaction may not have done in one go, perhaps, one of the reasons why it did not spark the wow effect that Marcion's editio princeps did. In the 160s because of the redacting activities of Justin, Tatian, Theophilus, but even Irenaeus still seems to reflect the synoptic work of the redactors.

  2. One thing that seems to me to speak for a common, over-arching redaction of the received gospels is the uncanny uniformity in their use of the 'son of man' locution, always for Jesus, but only ever by Jesus, always with the uncanny quality of an 'ego eimi' statement. There are clearly many hands involved in these texts, but this suggests one hand, acting according to a single principle.

    It is another matter, but I don't see how can think that Marcion simply 'wrote' his gospel rather than engaging in some process uniform with Tatian's. In collecting the letters of Paul, he doesn't seem to have engaged in any massive fraud; he seems to have picked up several solid-gold first century documents. Where, though, is he getting his information? If he is not himself assembling and redacting traditional sources, then he is simply engaged in massive falsification -- there is really no way around this -- but on the evidence this would seem to be totally out of character.

    -- Mark S

    1. Dear Mark,
      the 'son of man' locution is one of the key markers of Marcion's text - you only need to read Tertullian, how he criticises Marcion for it. Yet, he also gives Marcion's answer: the 'son of man' is Daniel's typos which misleads everybody who immediately thinks of the messiah as the warrior prince of the Creator god, instead the Christ of the transcendent God of mercy does not fight, but takes off suffering through his suffering and forgiving. Marcion, if you like, takes the typoi, but undermines them by giving them the new revealed meaning.
      That is why he does not simply engage in some redaction process like Tatian, but writes, like Paul did before him. Yet, you are right that with regards to the collecting of Paul's letters, he had a very sharp eye for the most authentic documents he could find. And, I take from this, that similarly, he also invested time, money and effort, to get to the best sources he could with regards to Jesus' biography. Where from? Paul's letters come mainly from harbours (where else would a ship business owner get his information from), and so I believe, he also got his other information, perhaps also from the ship and fish industry of the See Genezareth (why are Jesus' first disciples ship owners?). Hence, I do not think that Marcion engaged in any fraud at all. He gave us a reliable collection of Pauline letters, and he did his best with the sources of Jesus' bio as well. As he did not simply put Paul's letters into alphabetical order, but ordered them biographically and geographically, so he did with the Jesus' sources, but in this case, as they were oral information, he needed to give these sources his own narrative account.

  3. Markus,

    I am glad to see you give Marcion a more proper placement. However I have quibbles with some of your findings. Your model is off a bit. First the pre-pubish idea for Marcion takes Tertullian, speaking three plus generations after Marcion's rupture, so hardly first hand, may well have the specifics a bit off. To presume he means that a pre-publish version of Marcion's gospel was pinched and then published as the other gospels seems a bit far fetched. And there are technical problems with that model.

    I start first with the common material of Mark and Matthew, specifically the section after the feeding of 5000, which runs from the story of walking on water to the feeding of the 4000 (Mark 6:45-8:21 and Matthew 14:34-16:12), which is almost the only section known by John. This is a more primitive set of duplicate stories found elsewhere in the triple tradition section. It appears to be a prior version integrated into the proto-gospel shared by Matthew and Mark. That it is integrated into the proto-gospel and not from Matthew or Mark is shown by the summary of the duplicate feedings in Mark 8:16-21/Matthew 16:7-12. This tells me something more complicated is going on in the proto-gospel. How do you account for this section?

    Second an argument for Matthew being post Marcion publish is found in chapter 5 of Matthew. There appears to be several marked dependencies upon the Marcionite gospel and the more specifically the Antithesis. There are five antithetical pairs, each beginning with "you have heard it said" (in Dialogue Adamantius the pair usually starts "the god of genesis said") and contrasted with "but I say" (DA usually "but the Lord who is good said"). Also Matthew 5:17 is a specific attack on Marcion's end of the Law. There are simply many points in Matthew that are specifically polemic with Marcion's NT that it is hard to imagine this gospel was pre-release.

    So while I think your model is much closer to correct than the mainstream synoptic models, I think you have a few leaps at points to cover holes, and do not have the correct pre-Marcion gospel situation.

    From my viewpoint, Matthew built on Marcion, opposing his theology directly. John (a layered work) the opposed Matthew. Luke took Marcion's Gospel as his starting point and built on it using Matthew as reference (there are a few points I think he lifted from Mark as well, specifically the Wicked Tenants, but not many points). This explains Q to me as a layer of Marcionite saying, the Matthew sayings, then Luke topping it off. Mark I actually think is after Matthew because there are several pastoral themes - it is Catholic as the primary God is the Jewish God, unlike Marcion and the first edition of John.

    Anyway I was wondering how you account for those inconsistencies with your presentation.

    1. Dear Stuart,
      thanks for your careful consideration of my arguments. Reg. the first doubt that Tertullian's information about the "pre-publish version of Marcion's gospel" to be "pinched and then published as the other gospels" is 'far fetched" - yes, Tertullian writes a few decades after Marcion, but, as his own opening of his third edition of his "Against Marcion I-V" shows, this idea of the text being pinched seems to be core to his argument. He presents in his preface his own work in exactly the same way, complaining that he had prepared his work for a second version (he was unhappy with the first rushed one himself), while this version was pinched, altered and edited without his agreement. Hence, his need for the re-publication of his text in a third edition. Compared to this, Marcion's two-stage publication process does not seem off road.
      What you say about the relation between the canonical Gospels is replicating how, for example, Matthias Klinghardt sees the synoptic relations now, Matthew after and depending on Marcion, Mark after Matthew, Luke using all these (and perhaps even John). While I share this general view, my reading suggests that we have to give up such clear genealogies, and assume an almost contemporaneous development of these Gospels, on the basis of Marcion's text, while the published version of Marcion's text, as the "Antitheses" show, is already a reaction, hence written in knowledge of these other Gospels. That is why we do not have to do with simple genealogies - of which one could create a stemma - but with cross-contaminated texts which will not allow us to ever come up with a Synoptic stemmatic relation. There will always be passages, where we think b or c or d was before the others. The only thing that seems to me to be taken as a geneaological start is Marcion's own text, something, again, Matthias in his newly published 2 vols. work "Das älteste Evangelium und die Entstehung der kanonischen Evangelien", Tanz 60 (Tübingen, 2015) agrees with.

    2. I do think you should take a close look at Matthew chapter 5. That may change your opinion

    3. Dr. Vinzent,

      My comment on Tertullian is that he speaks 3+ generations after Marcion, so whatever he knows of him is not first hand. The same is probably true of the Gospels. Even in my model I have Matthew pushed out by 155 CE, since I can't date Galatians much after that. So while Tertullian's work was pinched, and it does provide a model that might be applicable to the gospels, that is only a possibility.

      You make some assumptions from that which are speculation (which is where you lose me), that Marcion may not have intended to publish, that Matthew and Mark (let's ignore Luke for now) came before Marcion as a result. Also you assume that there was not any proto-gospel running around before Marcion.

      But I challenge each of those points on technical data and theological content. The proto-gospel as I point out has complexities and signs of redactions before any of the gospels appear. That brings doubt about Marcion's authorship as original. (My own WAG is these weer religious plays to pass on key points, not "scripture" per say, and time and distance led to multiple versions and variances - I'm not ready to defend it vigorously, so it's my speculation for now.) Now for Marcion to counter these pinched copies you need to demonstrate some examples of specific adjustments in the Marcionite text to counter passages directly from Matthew or even Mark.

      I can point to specific Matthew passages as directed at the Marcionite gospel, and specific John passages directed at specific Matthew passages. I think you need to demonstrate that in Marcion.

      BTW, I think Mark is later than Matthew, but not dependent on it. The layer of Mark exclusive material is thin, but contains several pastoral themes. For example as in Mark 4:11 the image of the church top outsiders; and Mark 7:20-23 a pastoral list of ills that most closely matches Romans 1:28-31 which is a late pastoral addition, not in Marcion (Galatians 5:19-21 concerns the evilness of the flesh not defilement, could be source of Mark's list, making it after the Apostolikon); Mark 14:36 Abba may have come from the Apostolikon, Galatians 4:6 as well (Romans 8:15 looks like a later pastiche from the Catholic layer).

      To me you have three major points of speculation built on Tertullian's comment, which itself maybe based on Catholic polemic handed down to him.

  4. Dr. Vinzent.

    One problem with your view of the Marcionite Pauline collection is the mention of biographical material. There is absolutely no attestation of any travelogue material, beyond the polemic use in Galatians about going to Jerusalem. That therefore cannot explain the arrangement. Galatians can be explained as the the final letter, which Tertullian claims Marcion "found", as it introduces the collection and declares the source and authority of Marcion's Paul. The Latin prologues are of a later era, a secondary explanation from a Marcionite scribe's point of view - were they original with the collection we would expect to find them in a wider variety of manuscripts, but we don't.

    The explanation for order I would argue is more complex, possibly theologically drive. The 5th & 6th books in the collection (these are tracts, not letters), the Thessalonians, have a different greeting format than the others, indicating they may have been a separate collection. The commonality of the greetings ("I Paul and Apostle" etc.) and closings ("Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you") are in my view is better explained as products of the collector.

    Basically I am saying Paul is an very likely invention of a collector and editor. Many of the cores of these tracts likely in another form, even anonymously. The different styles, subtle variances in theologies, and even some vocabulary suggest multiple authors even in the Marcionite collection.

    Where am I going wrong in this view?

  5. Dear Stuart,
    again, you are quite right that there is scarce material on the basis of which Marcion could have ordered his collection. Yet, there are some. For example, he saw from where to where the letters were written, and, of course, he saw that Paul calls himself not only a prisoner, but also an old man in Philemon, and is it a surprise that two of our Gospels are given the names of those co-worker of Paul who are mentioned in this very letter, a letter which in Marcion's collection, stood last?
    How to qualify the texts of Paul and Paul himself .., I'd be interested to see the views of others who are specialists on these texts which I am not.

  6. (PART ONE)
    Dr. Vinzent,

    There is some question as to whether Mark and Luke actually are mentioned in the Marcionite version of Colossians. In DA 2.5-6 Megethius the Marcionite champion never quotes anything, and in fact does not respond to the Catholic champion Adamantius quoting Colossians 4:10-11, 14. Instead he seems to change the subject. DA parts 1 and 2 appear to have been constructed from some earlier anti-Marcionite sources, and put in Dialogue form, allowing the Catholic champion to reply in detail. The evidence seems to point to the author of DA not having an actual copy of the Marcionite NT. There are correction to conform to the Catholic and textual variants which are derived from the Catholic text. That makes it a problematic text. This is especially true when Adamantius is speaking, as this character, is very likely reading the Catholic text.

    A prime example is DA 8.24a-b/2.5 when Adamantius quote 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 in Catholic form but purportedly Marcionite text, saying

    Ἐγὼ μὲν γάρ ὡς ἀπὼν τῷ σώματι, παρὼν δὲ τῷ πνεύματι, ἤδη κέκρικα ὡς παρὼν τὸν οὕτως τοῦτο κατεργασάμενον ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, συναχθέντων ὑμῶν καὶ τοῦ ἐμοῦ πνεύματος, σὺν τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ, παραδοῦναι τὸν τοιοῦτον τῷ Σατανᾷ εἰς ὄλεθρον

    There are several ways we know this is Catholic text. It includes late variants +ὡς in 5:3, and +Χριστοῦ in 5:4. Also there is a compound word συναχθέντων of the pastoral strata (see Winsome Munro) of a type (συν prefix) all but not found in Marcion. Another objection is the passivity of Paul, his asking followers to make judicial decisions of importance, a characteristic inconsistent with the Marcion's presentation of Paul as never delegating. Further there is an implication of Paul being gone from the scene, in the distant past, shown by his "absent in body, but present in spirit." The whole spirit concept is Lukan and not Marcionite. So we have many reasons to suspect Adamantius is not presenting the Marcionite text, rather the catholic text he knows,

    The Marcionite Champion Markus gives us two loose quotes of the passage, but the presentation is convincingly Marcionite:
    825e/2.8 παρέδωκα τὸν τοιοῦτον εἰς ὄλεθρον τῆς σαρκός, ἵνα τὸ πνεῦμα σωθῇ
    833b/2.21 παρέδωκα τὸν τοιοῦτον τῷ Σατανᾷ εἰς ὄλεθρον

    Combined is probably the text, only παρέδωκα for παραδοῦναι in the Catholic text. Here Paul says straight up "I delivered such a one up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh."

    Tertullian agrees that it is Paul who surrenders him: AM 5.7.2: Sed cum eum damnat dedendum satanae.

    This is the Marcionite Paul, no deference of authority. He is a commanding leader. BTW the scenario is not farfetched. It was not uncommon in Rome for a wealthy man to divorce or be a widower and then marry a young woman from another wealthy family. Who knows if it was really consummated? Then a son might later take his father's wife upon his death, to keep the claim to her money and power. He might actually be about the same age as her.

    The method used is to compare and contrast, look at the details in the text and if there are variants the quality of the manuscripts supporting it. This reminds me, Clabeaux demonstrated convincingly that the Marcionite text in Paul is not Western - this is a common mistake people make trying to reconstruct the Marcionite texts.

  7. (PART TWO)
    Back to the point about Mark and Luke not being in the Marcionite Colossians. We know that Adamantius when speaking in the dialogue is not a reliable witness for the Marcionite text. The ignoring of his statement by Megathius is a red flag of a forced intercourse. So we look at words, and we see that the passage quoted contains ἀσπάζεται, a word not otherwise attested in Marcion. And in fact most of the instances of it in Paul occur in Romans 16 and 1 Corinthians 16, both appendages in Marcion (I think only a form of the closing we see in 1 Corinthians 16:23-24 was present in the Marcionite text, the rest of the chapter is later Lukan travelogue, full of pastiches and references to Acts). We also see that "fellow-worker" συνεργοί and "fellow-prisoner" συναιχμα compound word forms with συν that fall into the pastoral strata. The passage also implies acceptance and validity of a parallel Jewish Christians (οἱ ὄντες ἐκ περιτομῆς) as coworkers with Paul - impossible for Marcion.

    My conclusion, Adamantius presents the Catholic text, definitely not the Marcionite. We cannot say that Mark and Luke appear in Marcion's text. Their reference, as with all uses of ἀσπάζομαι in Paul is to convey ecclesiastical approval upon the names associated with it, often drawn from Acts (e.g., Romans 16:3) and other Christian legends. It is more probable that Mark and Luke found their way into this passage of Colossians after κατὰ Μαρκον and κατὰ Λουκαν were prefixed to the gospels.